Communal conservancies in Namibia under threat
Communal conservancies are in jeopardy in Namibia, amid reports of a possible ban on hunting trophies entering the European Union (EU), the ongoing drought and the decline in external donor funding.
Earlier this year, a group of EU parliamentarians and anti-hunting activists lobbied for the ban of hunting trophies entering the EU, arguing that the continent needs to be a key player in the fight against wildlife crime globally.
EU parliamentarians called for a complete import ban or for current legislation to be tightened.
Namibia is regarded as a forerunner in terms of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), with 42 percent of the country under some form of conservation protection. A major part of this management style is sustainable, legal hunting practices.
The annual hunting season in Namibia starts from 1 February 1 until November 30.
A European trophy hunting import ban would leave hunters from those countries unable to bring home the trophies they legally hunted.
Speaking in an interview, the Director of the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support organizations (NACSO) Maxi Pia Louis said trophy hunters coming to Namibia had already started cancelling their bookings, and many in the industry fear it because of the threat of such a ban.
She said that this poses a problem at the moment, especially with the ongoing drought, where there is need to have conservation tools to manage the excess legally huntable animal populations that are not sustained by the available water supply, and land usage demands of the indigenous community.
Namibia is well-known for scientifically identifying the right environmental balance for the mutual use of the land by wildlife and communities.
"We need to have a system that creates a balance for our environment, because we are a drought-stricken country and that balance should be created," Louis said.
She added that there is international misinformation around the issue of sustainable use of natural resources, and this affects the ability of communal to generate enough income to meet the needs of their members.
"If communities do not get income from wildlife, then they will question why they should look after the wildlife, so we need to set up systems that benefit the communities, especially where there are losses... professional hunting is one part of the system of sustainable use," she said.
According to Louis, professional hunting is one of the biggest income generators for , with nearly a third of the 74 registered entities involved in joint venture contracts with registered Namibian professional hunters.
In 2014, community conservation, including hunting revenues, generated about 91 million Namibian dollars (7 million U.S. dollars) in returns for local communities.
What usually happens is that professional hunters enter into agreements with conservancies to hunt specific animals identified by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism's (MET) permit process.
Tourists, who come to Namibia for sports hunting, buy packages from these professional hunters that includes the purchase of a legal permit for particular animal species.
The hunter is then entitled to the trophy from those animals and the meat is distributed among conservancy members, according to pre-agreed mechanisms.
The ministry, as the voice of government on this issue, has clearly and consistently stated that any hunting restrictions and a ban on the export of wildlife products will have devastating consequences on the conservation sector, as well as commercial and communal farming in Namibia.
NACSO is also concerned about the decline in external donor funding, which has had a major impact on conservancies.
Some rural communities have had to cut down on services, while others have had to retrench all of their staff, including game guards who count animal populations and monitor human-wildlife conflict, as well as those coordinating community services.
"The newly registered conservancies that need and want to have institutional and organizational support are the ones who are heavily affected, as we do not have the capacities we had in the past; the funds just are no longer there," Louis said.
"The programme was set up to empower and train communities, so that they have income from different viable streams, in order to sustain themselves," she added.
According to her, if organisations fail to empower communities to benefit from the resources on the land on which they live, that can also lead to increased poaching, because there will be no income coming in, and the resources around them will have no value.
"We used to have zero poaching for the past 20 years, and now it has started again, and that tells you with donor decline, there are insufficient services provided and no income coming in," she said.